It’s pretty rough and frustrating if the players don’t understand the basics of the game or some basic (for Age 3) unit relationships - like how Grenadiers are a ‘counter’ to ranged infantry.
The one thing that seperates newbies from the rest in the whole Age series is whether or not they are constantly building villagers. I’ve played too many level 9 home city players that won’t build more then 10 villagers the whole game.
Really the toughest part about LAN though is the Home City system. You don’t get to see the cool later techs and customability of the civs unless you have a level 10+ home city, but you don’t get a lvl10 HC without playing more then 10 games. But Age 3 is unique in the regards of having quite a few team-based technologies available. This makes Age 3, somewhat imo, less condusive to easy, pick-up team games then other RTS games.
I dunno, we’ve had some pretty good LAN games at Shoot Club with it, even with lower level home cities. TSG is right about the need to constantly pump out villies… at least until you have 40 or so, maybe more depending on strategy… but once that is out of the way the game is moderately intuitive. I’ve had some success at the casual level without worrying too much about the finer points of unit counters, focusing instead mainly on a single “key” unit depending on civ (oodles of Strelets for Russians; Jannies for Turks), garnishing iwth a few extras (mostly supplied by cards) and then getting artillery as soon as I can. This is no doubt a recipe for disaster in the online game but among friends it works ok.
SelfishGene is right that Age3 is certainly not intuitive. There are far better jump-in-and-play RTSs for your group, Brad. Dragonshard, for example, is superlative for this and it doesn’t require the sort of peon micromanagement that befuddles casual gamers trying to get into an RTS.
But as Gordon mentions, if you have a group of friends of equitable skill level, Age 3’s home city is a great hook to keep players involved from game-to-game. Warlords Battlecry was doing this long before Age 3, but it’s a great way to reward players for playing, even if they lose. I think that’s part of why it does well at Shoot Club: everyone loves getting to pick their new cards.
Gotta disagree about Dragonshard - As for 'pick up and play" games, Dragonshard can be immensely frustrating for all but RTS Gods. Trying to simultaneously explore the Dungeons (using your special abilities and items) while managing an army up on the surface is fun for hardcore players but trying to get new players into it – especially more casual players – is a nightmare.
If your gamers have a lot of patience, I love Civ IV on a LAN. Pick tiny or duel-sized maps and the fast game options so that you fly through the ages. The only thing is, you have to kinda ride people to keep the game moving – it’ll get bogged down if everyone agaonizes over every decision (which is fun in single player, but boring if five people are waiting for you to pick a tech.)
I’ve heard that Rise of Nations is a fun game as a pick-up at LAN parties, although I never tried it like that. I’m a little dubious.
As for Age III, I think it makes a great LAN party title, even if everyone is just starting out with fresh cities. Within two or three games everyone will start manifesting different strategies. It’s fun for team play (3 v 3 is a blast) and for casual gamers I love teaming up against the AI. Make sure everyone has a fairly beefy system, though.
I can’t imagine anyone playing Dragonshard by managing two armies. Firstly, the unit limit is too restrictive to allow for two armies. If you do divide your forces like that, you’re going to be easily beaten when you encounter the other guy. I can speak from experience.
Secondly, Dragonshard is not about map control. Unlike games with fixed resource locations, Dragonshard is about roaming and gathering. There’s no need to split your army to secure points on the map. You’re not going to hold them (e.g. Points of Power), you’re probably going to lose units trying, and you can’t corner the market on any resource by parking somewhere.
Thirdly, the way battles happen is clearly a disincentive to have two armies. Dragonshard is all about using your units’ special powers. Only a few of them work as autocast. This isn’t a fire-and-forget tactical game like Kohan or Rise of Nations. It’s a hands-on action tactical game like Warcraft III (another game where you pay the price in inefficiency if you split your forces).
In my experience, the closest thing you’d have to dividing your armies in Dragonshard is having one of your gatherers up top detecting shards after a storm, or maybe a thief below in the late-game, running around picking advanced locks after monsters have been cleared out. I guess you might use a small scouting group. And I’ve seen some players have a band of flyers harassing shard gatherers up top, but you can’t afford to invest too heavily in flyers without hurting your ability to get gold underground.
At any rate, one of the central design features of Dragonshard is very clearly that you play with a small cluster of units and not multiple armies. So I hate to give you the old “you’re playing it wrong!”, but, well, you’re playing it wrong. :)
As for being newbie friendly, I stand by that. It’s easy to introduce new players by explaining to them that they basically only want to use three types of units. Show them the wheel and tell them to pick one melee, one missile, and one magic. And then that’s it. There are no tech trees, no building progressions, and no choices beyond those three types of units selected at the beginning of the game. This is much easier to manage for newbies, and it’s pretty much how I still play: one melee, one missile, one magic.
There are other elements of the design that make it particularly newbie friendly: you’re not vulnerable to being rushed, it’s easy to recover from a lost battle, you don’t lose xp when units die, there’s plenty to do without going head-to-head with another player, and it looks pretty darn good. Dragonshard is also very gratifying in terms of the feedback loop of pressing a button and watching your dudes do cool stuff.
All in all, for those reasons, I think Dragonshard is very newbie friendly.
When I played Dragonshard, that “band of flyers” uptop sometimes ended up being a sizeable force, while the underground party would consist of maybe a Hero, a rogue, and a couple tank types. I don’t know if that was the best way to play, but I found myself getting into a two pronged approach at least some of the time.
Gordon, the entire game is two-pronged with its approach to the underground/overground map, but my point is that you aren’t necessarily expected to split up your army and simultaneously play both maps, as Fargo suggests.
BTW, your strategy of using flyers to control the overland map is certainly a viable one, but hardly necessary. Flyers are more like specialized units than part of your army proper. They can’t gather resources or go underground, so their role is limited. With the exception of the lizards, each race has only a single flyer anyway, and they’re easily countered with archers.
So, as I mentioned, if you’re relying too heavily on flyers and therefore splitting your forces, you’re vulnerable to being cut off from gold. Of course, you’re making it hard for the other guy to get shards, which is the trade-off and one of the reasons I really like Dragonshard and would encourage Brad’s group to give it a shot.